I wish that I was more of a baker. Unfortunately, my baking past is littered with all kinds of baking misfortunes: lumpy cakes, leaden cakes, cracked cakes, dry cakes, lopsided cakes, burned cakes, burned cakes with runny centers, runny cakes with charred tops. The list is unfortunately long!
I think it must be related to the fact that, when it comes to recipes, I am incorrigible: I rarely follow them to the letter. It doesn’t help that I am generally inclined to eyeball amounts instead of dirtying up another measuring cup or spoon. This is fine for regular cooking, but kind of disastrous when it comes to baking.
So when I decided to try to come up with my own recipe for a polenta cake with mascarpone that would make use of the first of this season’s rhubarb, I was pretty nervous.
Thankfully, it came out beautifully. The cake had a wonderfully moist and tangy crumb that beautifully complemented the rhubarb’s tartness. The idea of arranging the fruit (or vegetable? I guess rhubarb actually a vegetable) on the top of the cake batter comes from Nigel Slater’s Blueberry-Pear Cake from his Kitchen Diaries.
One more thing: be sure to remove any leaves from your rhubarb stalks before cooking. Only the stems are edible. The leaves contain oxalic acid that can make you pretty sick. It goes without saying to keep your animals away from rhubarb. More for you, I say. What a delicious way to live dangerously!
About 2 1/2 cups of rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup of brown sugar, plus an additional 1/4 cup
8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick), softened
3/4 cup of mascarpone
The zest and juice of one Meyer lemon
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 cup of yellow corn meal
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
How to prepare:
1. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the sides.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, toss the rhubarb with 1/4 cup of brown sugar. Let the rhubarb sit for about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°.
4. Sift the dry ingredients (the flour, the corn meal, the salt, the baking powder and the baking soda) together into a large bowl.
5. In another large bowl, cream together the remaining cup of brown sugar and the softened butter. Add the egg, followed by the mascarpone, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Continue beating the mixture until it is nice and fluffy. Beat in the dry ingredients, a little bit at a time, until they are well-incorporated into the batter.
6. Spread the batter out as evenly as possible onto the bottom of the springform pan. It will be thick. Arrange the rhubarb by pressing each piece into the batter in concentric circles. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the center has set.
Let cool before slicing and serving.